Saturday, June 30, 2018

One Tip on How to Be a Great Worldbuilder

Going to say as I'm writing this, I'm drinking an Americano that cost me four dollars, a dollar more than my patreon.  And it's not very good.

I am thinking ... If I would give advice now on how to build a world from scratch, what would I say?  With How to Run, I approached the discussion by defining what function a world was supposed to serve in the game, and what sort of structure a world should take, and how a world should affect the behaviour of the participants.  In short, I took a theoretical tack.

And the answers I received from many persons was, "I wish there had been more examples."  Readers don't want to know what a world is for or how to build one; they want a point-by-point guide that removes all that difficult design technique.  They want "10 things I need to know about worldbuilding."

It's out there.

And it is virtually useless.  You will need geography. And economy.  And women.  And so on.  Go. Make it happen.

For most, I confess that my book's effort was, well, high brow.  Reading the chapters on worldbuilding after ten years of designing several worlds that faceplanted might serve to focus your mindset, but if you haven't made a world before it is pretty nigh useless.  I would say the same for the hundreds of post I've written about building a trade economy, infrastructure or building blocks.  If there are people who need to see the words, "Those mountains had to come from somewhere," in order to think, "Hm, maybe I should include mountains in my game," then I am obviously preaching to an auditorium full of monkeys.

Still, I'm not terribly interested in writing a elementary primer for readers who are compelled to locate the answers to the  question, "Why is everyone [in your game world] straight/cis?"  Um, just no.

Fine.  What would I say?

If the reader is looking around for advice on this subject, chances are the subject of a map is going to present itself ~ and the reader is bound to think that making a map of the world is a good first step.  I want to help: if you don't know how maps work, and what purpose they serve ~ and you in particular can't find your way around using a city map ~ then don't make one.  You are wasting your time.  Before a tool can be of any use to you, you must learn how the tool works and get some experience using it.  If a real map in the real world can't hold your attention for more than a minute, then please, for the love of gawd, just write a list of stuff in your world and keep it handy.  How each thing relates to other things physically isn't that important to you.  Save your time.

Have you ever been in more than one kind of forest?  How much detail can you remember about how these trees looked, compared to how those trees looked?  If your knowledge of forests does not extend past what you've seen in a movie, then I strongly suggest you don't bother to name any of the "forests" in your world.  I suggest you just call them all, "the forest," in small letters.  Because your players won't remember, because they won't care.  All that will matter is that they are in the generic forest that you, the DM, can understand.

The same goes for mountains, and sea coasts, jungles, prairies and arctic tundra.  If you don't know how these places look or feel, then please, for the love of all that's holy, downplay their importance in your world.  For all the value they will add to your game, your world's environment might just as well be "gray space," the sort that makes the background for a typical video game.  It is out there, but it's just a screen saver.

If the reader is thinking of inventing some awesome and amazing culture that will exist only at your table, stop and think for a moment.  If you were to start describing YOUR culture, the one you're living in right now, how many hours could you speak about it before either a) getting tired and bored of speaking; or b) get wrapped up in talking about the shared media that every other culture also experiences?  Let me put that another way.  If you live in Savannah, Georgia, how long can you talk about Savannah, and just Savannah, before you stop talking?  An hour?  Two?  If it is anything less than 10 hours, don't pretend you can make a culture entirely out of your own imagination.  You really don't know anything about culture, even your own.  How are you going to talk about it for 50 or 60 hours over the next few months of running your game world?

This goes double for any history you think you can create for your world.  And treble for any race you think you can invent for your characters to play.  Can you talk about being human for 30 hours?  Give it a try.  Then come back and tell me how my snorfblat fighter thinks.

While we're at it, spare us your Arabian World, your Japanese World and your Mayan World.  Unless you've done your due diligence, and spent a hundred hours or so compiling enough information about these cultures to let you talk about them for 10, 20 or 30 hours, stick with your screen saver.  It is all that you can handle.

And this, for the clever reader, is the solution to your problem.  LEARN something.  Your next vacation, instead of flying out to Malaga, Mazatlan, Cuba or Las Vegas to lay on a beach or gamble, or get drunk with your buddies, get in your car and drive to an empty forest, mountain, desert or polar expanse and walk around.  You want to try a Japanese Campaign?  Fly to the Ryukyu Islands, south of Japan, far from the modern experience, and spend two weeks living in a hostel.  Not a hotel.  Learn Japanese and live with actual people.

Or at least learn a little more about the town you live in.  Learn about culture.  Start a business and learn how an economy works from the ground level.  Educate yourself.  Get some experience.

And please, learn how to talk more about things that you actually know.  Get a job as a tour guide where you live and get into the habit of explaining to outsiders how things are in Savannah, or wherever you are.  Being a guide or taking a volunteer position of any kind where you have to explain things to people who need guidance is the best experience you can ever have as a DM.  It will help you understand how maps work, as you explain to people how to use a map to get somewhere inside your city, or your country.  It will give you some experience into how people from other cultures think, and what matter to them ... so that your Arabian Campaign doesn't sound like Arabia, South Illinois.  More talking will make you more confident.  More talking will focus your goals.  More talking will educate you, as you have to listen to the questions other people will ask.

If you really need a list of things you need to know about how to build a world, you're not ready to build a world.  Go learn how to build.  Even if it is only a decent sandwich.

Friday, June 29, 2018


I have heard from people who were not pleased with my treatment on Al and Chad's podcast.  But I do rush to point out, it was not I that set the agenda; nor the time constraint.  I approached the podcast with the desire to express my thorough belief that the game must be taken out of the hands of the game seller and put into the hands of the game player.  I feel I got that point across, and that it was made stronger by Al's repetition that I made good points, without either Al or Chad mounting an argument against me.

However, I would like to be interviewed by someone with a more pin-point agenda.  Rather that talking about the Satanic Panic and how outsiders built their case, I'd rather be talking about how we build a case today to change how outsiders feel about the game.  Rather than talking about whether edition wars are good or bad, I'd rather talk about why the change in content between editions created factions and what those specific factions stood for ~ that is, why people felt the need to hate others.  I'd rather dig down into the day-to-day subjects of play, game rulings and world design, than returning to the same questions about the past.

Building my own podcast, I questioned if I should ask DMs how they got started.  I felt it was a question that deserved examination, from the standpoint of each person, compared to each other person.  But having heard the story repeated, I am beginning to think it is the least valuable question we can ask one another.  Should I ask mathematicians to tell me about the first time they added numbers together?  Or politicians about the first time they did a book report in elementary school?  Or soldiers about the first time they played guns with their mates?  What is that going to tell us?  Why are we as participants in this game so infatuated with the way we started?

I argue it is because, for most people, playing this game exists in a constant universe of them having "lost" something.  Why investigate our memories of the Satanic Panic?  Why investigate our memories of when the game reached the mainstream?  Why ask our feelings about how the game has changed, without producing facts or evidence of investigation, so that at least we might be describing history?  Why is it that we are so locked into the past?  And specifically, that past when we first started playing?

I think it is because most people came to this game when they were children; younger than 16, at least.  And that in that first formative period of their participation, the imaginary element of the game was more keenly felt than it is today.  That as children, every adventure, every image, every moment of explaining what their character did, every argument over some rule, every nub and bobbin of the game was amazingly, astoundingly fresh and spectacularly divorced from the ordinary, common experience of being a kid in a school, under the control of authority figures.  I think it is because for most people, D&D, or Role-playing, was their first real experience with total independence as a self-aware person, discussing a passion with other similarly aged self-aware persons.

And now it is hard to remember exactly how that felt.

By talking about it, we have moments where we're momentarily in touch with that feeling.  It is visceral, not intellectual.  We can't express it.  We know it, but we can't grip it and hold onto it; for we don't think like we did when we were children.  We're different now.

Yet I feel there are a majority of players who sit down to D&D games every week as if the ritual of playing the game in its most familiar incarnation, the old structured format from their childhood days, will magically resurrect the childlike wonder, the awe, that once possessed us when we cast spells and fought giants, when we watched the die bouncing over the table with open-mouthed reverence.  I'm quite sure that many fully-grown adults believe this effect is exactly what the ritual produces.

I find that sad.

As I said in the podcast, I did not come to D&D at 9 years of age.  There was no chance of that for me; the game did not exist until I was ten, and did not make its way into my world until I was 15.  Moreover, I was a much older 15 than my peers.  I could count several university students among my friends.  My teachers had asked my parents three times to push me forward to a higher grade (my parents always refused).  I was already deep into statistics and map-making, amateur astronomy (in which I would head out on my own into open farmer's fields in the summer time, after midnight, with binoculars and later a telescope, to record my sightings), writing books and plays, working as a summer camp counselor and so on.  I had all the tools I needed in my mental pocket to make being a DM my life's work.  I was never in awe of the game.  I was in love with it.

This infatuation with the past, with how we got started, or what it meant to us, or how it felt the first time we went to a game con, or what it was like to be a young DM ... it's lost on me.  I vaguely recall my first disastrous efforts, the desire to possess certain dice and miniatures, or the intensity of those around-the-clock sessions that would start at noon and go past midnight ... but that is not why I play now.  I play now because I love it now.

The way some people approach the game, it reminds me of a husband who loves his wife because once she was pretty and very popular, and he likes to have her around because he enjoys remembering the woman she was.  But I love my wife for the woman she IS ... the sweet, cuddly nearly-60-year-old who is fighting time with dignity and good humour.  She's not who she was, and nor am I ~ and how sad it would be if we were both clinging to each other fantasizing about something that is long gone, that can never change, because we wouldn't let it change.

That is not love for me.  Love is growth.  It is living and seeing the next day, and making that next day special for its own reasons, regardless of what happened once upon a time.  I am sad for people who are helplessly caught in their own nostalgia, who can think of nothing to talk about except what we did, what happened way back when, who used to think what and how terrible and awful it all that because a bunch of old people, who are most likely dead now, used to think the game was about worshipping Satan.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Geekery in General, Episode 200

A chance to hear me on someone else's podcast.

Here I'm interviewed by Al and co-host Chad Knight on DrivethruRPG.  As usual, I go off the rails while we discuss early D&D, the Satanic Panic, Edition Wars, where the game has been and where it's going, while I slam the company, belittle the mainstream media, talk about early convention in the 1980s, berate the poor hosts for caring about the publication of game modules and make as many solid, factual arguments as I can about the potential of role-playing games and D&D and why we're not reaching it.

Hook, Tale and Sting

An all round excellent book and
instructive for any Dungeon Master
I'd like to start by referencing events that I wrote about earlier, associated with the post, Who is Responsible.  One of the players foolishly attempted to cast an unknown spell inside a Merchant's Guild, which ended in his being taken off to prison.  Things looked certainly dire; the scene can be read on the first resource post from the Senex Campaign.

While the scene did not play out well for the player, as a DM I had no intention of executing the player for a simple mistake, which was reasonably a matter of not clearly understanding the rules.  Unless a player is deliberately obtuse, I consider it my responsibility to rebuild the situation into one that the player can rise out of ... and so I contrived a court scene that would end with the player character, Tiberius, receiving his freedom.

My perspective is that player foolishness is usually an opportunity for further events, which can set up a twist ... or, to see it another way, a sting.

In many ways, Dungeon Mastering is a confidence game.  The way in which con artists used to describe the process of fleecing their mark gives us the terms we still use in storytelling and in role-playing games.  The con's mark is given a "hook;" the hook is followed with a "tale" that baits the hook, encouraging the mark to want something so badly that they're willing to expose themselves. When the con artist takes advantage of that exposure, it is called the "sting."

For example, you're a mark; and you want to be very, very rich.  Being rich, however, is something hard to accomplish, so you're always looking for an easier way. This is what makes you a mark: your willingness to look for shortcuts.

The hook is the demonstrate that a short cut exists.  And the tale is the way that its revealed that you, if you're smart enough, and willing enough to break a few rules, can take advantage of this short cut.  And when you do try to take advantage ... I sting you.

That's what the Nigerian Prince is all about.  It's what most phishing scams are built around.  It's the tale behind Amway and most pyramid schemes.  "Do this, it's really easy, just get your friends to join, and once they get their friends to join, and so on, you'll be rich!  And in the meantime buy these products wholesale so you can make money off them, too!"

People believe because they want to believe.  Because they are desperate to believe.  Because the idea of not believing they can be rich fills them with angst and sorrow.

Role-players are excellent marks, because they have deliberately put their blinders on for the sake of enjoying the fantasy and taking risks that they wouldn't ordinarily take as real people.  They don't need much of a hook or a tale ... and though they are often doubtful, now and then they can be sweetly and beautifully stung ~ though personally, I like to do it in a manner that enables a continuing, satisfying and steadily profitable experience for the players.  This post is to explain how.

Of course, it's always possible to find some hook that can be baited for the player, but if we take a situation like Tiberius getting himself arrested, that's not necessary.  The player is already good and hooked, because the player is at the NPC's mercy.

I invented Johann Mizer carefully, on certain tried-and-true principles.  First, he had to be an important enough merchant that his word would be recognized by the Judge of the Court and be good enough to exonerate Tiberius:
Johann Mizer [known at this time only as a 'Gentleman']: “Your honor. I was present at the dinner in the Merchant’s Hall when this man’s honor was astoundingly and insultingly impugned by the action of the Hall’s concierge. The very idea that this man could stand in a public place and prepare to throw a spell in such a manner is utterly ridiculous and fully fantastical. This man is a well-known figure in the business world in Graz, in Syria, and is in the employ of the Baron von Furstenfeld, an upstanding gentleman and one of the Electoral College of the Empire, your honor. His faithfulness to the crown, to the well-being of his fellow man and to God is indisputable. I demand that compensation be made for this unforgivable attack!”

First and foremost, all of this is a lie.  The player behind Tiberius knows it is, but who facing a prison term would say so?  Obviously, if Tiberius did say so, as DM I would throw him in prison and ask him to roll a new character (for being deliberately stupid).  Secondly, the lie is ornate, excessive and full of names and details that I can advantage because my world is based on the Real Earth.  This is south Bavaria in the 17th century; Graz is an important trading city, there is an Electoral College in the Holy Roman Empire and Furstenfeld was a legitimate name of nobility.

Moreover, the details here took advantage of a background I gave to the character before the game started.  I did not create the background with this purpose; I didn't know the player was going to get thrown in jail so quickly.  But once I did know, I searched the background to find what I could exploit.  So that is Key: use the player's background, if there is one, to create a hook.
For Mizer's lie is a second hook, in that it leaves the player to wonder, "Why is this stranger lying for me?"

Connecting Tiberius to Mizer, as someone Tiberius knew once upon a time, helps create the hook we're going to tell.  The tale is this: Mizer always liked Tiberius, Mizer is rich, Mizer has power, Mizer has Tiberius' best interests at heart ~ and concordantly, the party's best interests also.  The virtue of the tale is that it helps convince the player, "1) If Mizer likes me, he'll help me. 2) If he's rich, he can help me with money.  3) If he's powerful, he can connect me with other people who can help me. 4) And he'll do all this because he likes me."

To make this work, we've got to be subtle and not heavy handed.  Mizer will help, but not now, because he's busy, he has to go talk to really important people.  Meet him tomorrow at a reputable place so we can talk about stuff.

Mizer's lack of availability sells point (3), as does the fact that the judge believed Mizer.  The importance of the people Mizer meets helps sell point (2). A public place suggests he has nothing to hide and helps sell point (1).  And 1 + 2 + 3 helps sell point (4).  We can do all of that with so little.

The story in the past that I gave was that once, Tiberius' master sold Mizer a blind horse; Tiberius was present as a stable boy.  Of course he wouldn't have dared, as a boy, speak up; and the player accepts that immediately, when Mizer says,
Johann: “You sold me a blind horse! Well, the Baron did. I think that’s the last time I did anything very foolish. Have you had a decent meal? Do you have somewhere to stay?”

The words are chosen very carefully!  He brings up the horse; he exonerates Tiberius in it, and Tiberius naturally assumes this was because Tiberius was just a stable boy.  And Mizer seems very content about it, blaming himself.  What a good guy this Mizer is!  And generous, too ... the generosity following immediately after the concept of blame/self-blame.  Look at Tiberius' response:
Tiberius: I laugh uneasily at Johann’s small joke. “My jailors treated me remarkably well. Food, water, a place to think. All well and good, considering.” Tiberius informs Johann of his accommodations at The Pig. “If I might ask, what brings you to Dachau? Besides helping an old acquaintance out of an unfortunate scrape?”

Hook taken.  Tiberius reveals his abode without hesitation.  Ask yourself as a person: how quick are you to tell near strangers where you live?  Tiberius the player trusts Mizer already.  As a DM, it is my role to figure out a way to transform that trust into a good game experience.

continued elsewhere ...

As it stands, the above would be a post on its own; it makes a relevant, legitimate point, one that I hope most DMs will embrace.  I continue to make an effort to provide content both for those people who support me monetarily and those who do not.

There is more, however, that isn't said above.  This is the second of two such posts I have written in the month of June for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found. Examples on the Tao of D&D blog can be found for free, here and here.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but you must do it soon. Patreon will account for all pledges starting in just two days; and any pledges made after July 1st will not be processed until August 1st.

Because it is difficult to keep track of who is donating $3 to me each month, I am no longer accepting small direct donations for the Master Class blog.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Senex Campaign 2: The Meyer's Homestead

Having not as yet settled on what action to take, the night catches up to the party and they settle down in their beds to sleep. In the cold light of morning, they awake to find a gentle falling rain. It is Monday, May 6. The Pig tavern quickly empties of guests, as those who spent the night in Dachau, visiting the market and seeing the performance, pull out before sunrise to return to their homes and to the small mills outside of town. The party wakes, having the Inn to themselves, as most time.

As the party’s board has been paid up until the end of May, Helmunt has a breakfast prepared and waiting for you: duck’s eggs, boiled sausage and porridge. You eschew the porch, for while there is an awning over the outside tables, the cloth leaks. So, you find yourselves inside, finishing your breakfast and wondering if the rain will end before the evening.
Josef Mieszko, the Cleric: Paid through ‘til May! Then we’re in no rush - I thought that we were in much more dire straits than this! OK guys, what to do today?
Anshelm Helbelinc, the Thief: I only takes a bit of porridge to break my fast, as the cotters’ meal from the night before has left me uncomfortable. “It would appear the locals are in a state of agitation. That might be a situation we could use to our advantage; of course, it could also mean our heads...from either side! P’raps we should see what Tiberius’ friend has to offer us in the way of work and wage.”
Delfig Kôlhupfer, the Bard: Being the late sleeper, I will grumble and groan, stand and stretch, nod appreciatively at Helmut. “I agree, we should see what becomes of Tiberius’s friend.”
Tiberius [Adelbert Volkmann], the Mage: I agree to go visit Johann at the Merchant’s Hall, once I have broken my fast.
Josef: Is Dachau divided into “quarters” – are the low and high class areas of the town physically separate? And if such sections exist, which are we in?
DM: There would be “quarters” of the town--specifically, there would be four quarters: a) the wealthier, merchant and noble’s quarter; b) the impoverished quarter; c) the Jew’s quarter; and d) the foreigner’s quarter. These are not the same size.
If you imagine a clock face, with the Cathedral, and The Pig across the street at the center of the clock, with 12 o’clock pointing north. From 9 to 12 on the face would be the merchant’s quarter. Extending outward from the Merchant’s hall on the main square are several walled estates; the mayor’s hall, the arsenal and the town bath. Past this are larger merchant’s houses, with artisan’s shops on the main floor and living quarters above, some of them four floors high. There are also half-timbered houses possessed by private clerks, city officials and independently wealthy persons. This area is built on a flat plateau above the Amper bottomland. The center of this plateau is dominated by a fortress, occupied rarely by the Duke of Bavaria, usually held by the Duke’s steward and occupied chiefly by soldiers and those town members who serve the soldiers: cooks, lamplighters, servers, stablers and so on.
Between 12 and 4 o’clock, the poor live in a wide, ramshackle circle, mixed with open gardens and cropland, scattered along the bottomland, below the merchant homes. The further away, the greater the poverty, descending from those living nearest the merchant quarter outwards, from strong laborers, to rat catchers and gong farmers, and finally to beggars.
Between 4 and 6 o’clock would be the Jew’s Quarter, strictly separated from the rest of the town by a wall built within the city. For other residents of Dachau, free passage is not denied; but the Jews are not permitted to freely roam into the remainder of the city.
Finally, between 6 and 9 o’clock is the foreigner’s corner, which is not as deep as the other quarters of the city, though it is an elongated neighborhood extending a third of the town’s circumference. It includes the largest monastery in the town, and the customs house.
The North Gate would pass between the Castle and the poor district, at 12 o’clock on our clock. The South Gate would come at 6 o’clock, between the Jew’s quarter and the foreigner’s quarter.
Delfig: After waiting for awhile, I comment to Anshelm, “Perhaps we should put our knowledge together, as we have had bits and pieces of conversations. Although we’ve been here awhile, we’ve just now learned that the merchants are squeezing the locals, and perhaps enforcing old grudges to clear them out of the way. This may be leading to some unknown end, as I overheard some of the higher class speaking of an unknown purpose to the building, perhaps for more soldiers. This leads me to believe that there will be a period of unrest coming. Tiberius and the cotters both spoke of the merchants looking for more soldiers. I noticed you were asking questions that seemed to annoy the patrons. Do you wish to share something that you’ve learned? You didn’t say much last night after the performance.”
“And Josef... have you anything to add?”
Anshelm: I agree with Delfig. “You have good sense for a mummer,” I say while reaching for my snuff. “I wasn’t able to glean all that much from the locals; they’re a suspicious lot and didn’t like me prying, asking about the recent unpleasantness around here.” I mention my overhearing from the coachmen about the four killings. “I, for one, am curious about these murders ...”
Delfig: I’m not going to get involved in fomenting rebellion unless there’s a damn good reason for me to risk my neck doing so.
Josef: I believe that the activities of the merchants and leaders of the town are common and will be the case in most of the market towns we come across in the Empire - and just as likely were we to go west. If the issue came up, I know which side I would favor - but I fear that the merchant-lords and bishop-brokers have the upper hand. They have the means to declare their will and then enforce it. However the commons resist, the money is entrenched. Perhaps there is a smaller village nearby that we could base ourselves, then come back here once we’ve somehow acquired some wealth.
Delfig [to Josef]: “I don’t know enough. The lay of the land feels quite treacherous with the murder of the innkeeper and now talk of other murders. We don’t have a good source of coins yet, so my belly tells me to take care of local business before I consider travelling abroad.”

Nothing else is said and the DM moves the game along.
DM: Let us presume the party’s meal is done. Rain continues to fall, steady and drearily, a bit more than light and less than heavy.
Tiberius: Any who wish to come with me to meet with Johann may do so. Otherwise, I will go out into the rain, cloak pulled tight around me, and see if Johann is in the guild hall.
Anshelm: I will accompany you.
Delfig: I am with you.
Josef: I will stay at The Pig, but I appreciate the offer. I’m afraid I don’t make a good impression on the upper-class.
Kazimir Kropt, the Assassin: Kazimir will stay at the Pig with Josef, having no desire to go out in the rain when there’s sausage to be had.
So we follow Tiberius, Anshelm and Delfig as they head out into the rain to cross the square. The group is somewhat damp as they poke in the front door of the Merchant’s Hall. It is quite different today. While there lingers a bit of the barnyard odor, you can also detect the strong smell of vinegar and lye that has been used to scrub the Hall’s floor and some of the walls and pillars. The hall is quite empty, except for a long, narrow table where sits a single gentleman, the insignia on his cloak identifying him as a clerk of the guild. An open book showing pages partly covered with signatures waits in front of him.
Tiberius: I step up to the clerk and ask politely if Johann Mizer is available.
Clerk (npc): “You are Herr Volkmann?”
Tiberius: “Yes. These are my companions.” I motion to the others.
DM: The clerk produces a bell from his tunic and a boy appears from behind a pillar; the boy then runs to fetch Mizer. When Johann appears, he will seem somewhat rushed. But he will reach out for your hand and greet you warmly. He asks after your companions and waits for you introduce them.
Tiberius: I return Johann’s warm greeting.
Johann Mizer (npc): “I did think we would get together, Adelbert,” says Mizer, “but not in the day. Tonight perhaps? I know an excellent beer garden near the baths.”
Tiberius: “Yes, that’s fine. We can meet with you later tonight.” I get the name and location of the beer garden and leave with my companions.
With no one speaking to the contrary, the group leaves and return back to The Pig. There, they find that Kazimir and Josef are already off.
Josef: Should the rain lighten, I would like to go wander the Foreign Quarter looking for vendors, bars, etc., looking perhaps toward Bohemian or Polish neighborhoods.
Kazimir: I will go with Josef to the Foreign Quarter.
DM: The rain is not that heavy at the moment. You head out, and soon see a sign hanging on the front of a building showing the word, “Gospoda.” This is a common description in Silesia for a tavern that caters to soldiers.
Josef: As it is early in the day, I would consider coming back to the Gospoda in the later evening.
[OOC: Perhaps when others go to meet Johann at the beer garden?]
And so that was a short journey. The rain seems to cut short the players’ interest in doing much of anything, at least until the evening.
Tiberius: Not wanting to catch pneumonia, I will stay out of the rain for most of the day, taking the time to dry out at The Pig.
Anshelm: I will be accompanying Tiberius to the beer garden.
Delfig: I will be with him too.

We wait with the party. The rain ceases to fall in the early afternoon, though the weather remains gloomy for the remainder of the day. The high hills to the southwest of Dachau retain a shroud of fog into the evening, with no sign that it will lift before sunset. It is, altogether, a dreary day.

In the afternoon, a message arrives from Johann Mizer as to the location of the beer garden, and an indication that Tiberius and his friends should meet him there at six bells. It is not a great distance; Helmunt, ever eager to please, offers to send a boy with the party to show the way, if only a copper piece is given. One way or another, through the wet streets the trio find their way to the garden, which at first glance is unfortunately in the out of doors.

No Medieval image could be found.

Stepping through an arch constructed of latticework and holly branches, the party finds a group of wet wooden tables and benches. The latticework extends over their heads, and weaved into the frame are more branches, not quite thickly grown with holly leaves—this will take a few weeks yet. In the sunshine it would be a beautiful shaded recluse.

To the group’s delight, however, it is discovered that half the beer garden is roofed, and a solid structure built on three sides. On the fourth side is a roaring fire, fully eight feet wide and four feet deep, in which burns hemlock and yew. Stepping between a few puddles still filling the hollows between the exposed benches, Tiberius, Anshelm and Delfig join the hearty throng of forty people sitting in the warm comfort provided by the fire.

Mizer is there; he happily greets each one of you; introductions are made, and Mizer pleasantly insists that he buy the first round. The day did not begin too well for him; but an arrangement has been made and a silversmith is to be ousted from his rented property a few miles out of town, so that it will be put under Mizer’s ownership.

While hearing this tale, the trio cannot help noticing that the barmaids are exceptional - all beautiful, all quite young and with remarkable ashen skin and near-perfect teeth. This last, of course, would be quite rare to their experience, and Mizer will laugh when he sees his companions noticing it.

He’s quite happy to explain the happenstance. The beer garden is in part owned by an adventurous young fellow, who a few years ago took part as a mercenary in the recent 30 Year’s Holy War, in Saxony. He made his fortune in silver. This young fellow, a paladin, Eberhardt Hornung by name, has since become the darling of the town, and this beer garden is a contribution to his fame. It is true, adds Mizer discreetly, that Hornung also manages a string of harlots … the “cleanest” harlots in Bavaria, since none ever suffers from any disease, not even in their teeth. But Mizer suggests not spreading such rumours that one might hear in a beer garden.
Anshelm: I chuckle to myself as Mizer tells Hornung’s story. “This silversmith ... what’d he do?” I inquire after a moment, keeping my tone as neutral as possible.
Johann (npc): “Oh nothing, I suppose. But it’s not his land, is it? I might have a look at his books, see if he’s worth having as a tenant ... but I’m thinking I’d like to turn the land over to cattle. There might be some trouble, depending on what sort of man he turns out to be - but I’ll send a group of hooligans if I must.”
Anshelm: “Indeed. Sometimes you just need to crack a few skulls when tenants become insolent.”

continued elsewhere ...

This is just a small part of the full post, which contains more than 10,000 words.  To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but you must do it soon if you wish to see this post before waiting another full month until August 1st.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Messing Up

Sometimes, as DMs we get things confused.  And as we confuse them ourselves, we transfer that confusion in messages to the party, which only confuses things further.  It has happened to everyone, and more often than we like.  It's simply a part of playing a complex game.

In writing out a part of the early Senex campaign [The Meyer Homestead], I have stumbled across just such a moment.  I'm going to try to describe why I lost the thread of what was happening, and how that was made worse by my failure as a DM to contain a player who was behaving erratically.

The scene takes place near a farmhouse, and begins with an oh-so-common problem.  The party is deciding who is going forward to see the farmhouse, and who is staying behind.  That is where the confusion begins ... with the post ahead of the one linked above [The Journey West].

It's the usual thing.  Players stating their intentions, and then changing their minds, without acknowledging the change and in general, using language which is not absolutely definite.  In this case, we have five characters: Anshelm, Delfig, Josef, Kazimir and Tiberius.  And so begins a dance that many a DM has had to face in many a game ~ and sometimes to the point where we are screaming at players to make up their minds.

We'll start with Tiberius.  During the exchange on The Journey West, Tiberius is non-existent.  Not a single comment.  Though this is a bigger problem in an online campaign, it certainly comes up at a game table often, as players don't show up for a particular session or show up an hour late, or a similar scenario.  It is expected for the other players to carry on, and for the late or absent player to fit into the game when he or she gets back.

That's what happened here.  The other four players set out to decide for themselves.

Next, Kazimir.  Here is a different problem.  Throughout the campaign, Kazimir's involvement was never peak.  His commitment to checking the campaign and posting his own participation was exceptionally lax.  He rarely commented at all, and when he did, the contribution could be easily dismissed.  His entire involvement in this decision amounted to only this:  "Kazimir is present.  His sling is ready with a stone in it. Ready to proceed."

As a DM, I should have demanded he make this more clear, since it absolutely does not say whether or not he decides to stay behind and protect the gear, or go ahead and approach the farmhouse (they're supposed to be goons, pushing the resident off the land).  But ... I had already given up on Kazimir.  In a month of posts, I'd seen about five comments, all like the above.  I frankly didn't care if he came or not.  I let it slide, and got myself into trouble.

At varying times in the flurry of comments that followed, I made up my mind at one point that he had gone ahead with the others; and at another point, I'd decided he stayed behind.  I never got it straight in my head ... and because I hadn't been running a blog campaign very long, I didn't try to get it straight.  DM Error #1.

Then there was Josef.  Gawd, Josef.  In Josef I had a player who was ready to say anything, then disagree with it in the very next comment.  Or ask questions about matters that had been resolved (along with his taking part in resolving it), only to open the matter up again as it made people think it wasn't resolved.  Mixed in with this was a tendency for Josef to just blather on about things that made no sense.  All this has an effect on me as a DM.  I stop listening.  I wind up, for good or ill, trying to get everyone sorted, expecting that once that's done I can get a final answer from someone like Josef.

During The Journey West post, Josef made a host of suggestions, to move into the trees and observe the farmhouse, to knock on the front door, to burn the farmhouse down ... which was fine, except that nothing that he said was answering anyone else's statements.  Josef was merely tossing out random words, not taking part in solving the problem, only adding other suggestions that, in turn, no one answered.

Finally, it was established that he would stay behind.  But then, with a sudden intention to run the game, Josef declared,
"... delfig and anshelm stelth-up forward to scout while me, kazimir & tiberius stay behind ..."

Players who set out to run other players are a problem.  I should have stomped on him for doing it, right then, but I didn't.  Again, I hadn't been running online much and since my next line was to say that "Kazimir and Anshelm were going forward, possibly with Delfig," I felt I'd sorted the situation.  And though neither Delfig nor Anshelm had made a plan to approach stealthily, except as a suggestion, they HAD said they were going to scout, so it was an honest mistake.  No problem. 

At this point, as I started writing The Meyer Homestead post, I had it in my mind that Tiberius and Josef were hanging back, with the dogsbody Ells that showed the party how to get to this place, and the other three were going forward.

Why do I say 'stomp'?

If you don't contain the bad habits of your players right out of the gate, those bad habits will fester and infect your whole game.  There are a host of bad habits that every DM faces ... and in my experience, that most poor DMs allow to fester.  Players who won't make up their minds, who declare what other player characters do, who set themselves up as the final authority, who speak but who do not converse, and finally who do not understand that sometimes it isn't appropriate to speak at all.

The only proper way to manage this is to make it clear, out loud, that we know what the player is doing, describing it in detail if necessary ... and then stating that we want the player to stop it.  And then, every time the player does it, call it out.  Make the player admit it.  And then, if there's no sign of improvement, boot the player.

A lot of people in role-playing games think that is excessive.  But imagine that we are playing soccer (or football, if you prefer); and the player repeatedly touches the ball, however slightly, with his or her hands.  Repeatedly.  In spite of it being pointed out and in spite of it being made clear that it doesn't matter how little you touch the ball with your hands ... It. Is. Wrong.  And if the player won't transcend that habit?  Then fuck yes, you boot the player from the game.  That's how every other game playing group treats the rules, whether it's soccer or pool or backgammon.  Don't fuck with proper etiquette.  Play the game appropriately.

I should have stomped on Josef but I didn't.  DM Error #2.

We can move onto The Meyer Homestead post now.  I've linked it again for convenience.

I've made it quite clear in my descriptions that the players are in a forest.  And I say that the cart track rises over a small spur, a mere 30 foot climb. The players, as is seen in many comments afterwards, seemed to think that the top of the spur was just 30 feet from where Josef was waiting.  The 30 foot climb was meant to be its vertical distance ... and since carts and most walkers don't like super-steep roads, it should have been understood that the real walking distance was much further, far enough that when the party reached the top of the spur, or ridge, where they could see the farmhouse below, it would be way far away from Josef ... too far for any kind of discourse between Josef and the others.

Picking up the new post, let's start again with Tiberius.  The player behind Tiberius had a tendency to forget to change nicks before commenting on the game ... and was unfortunately named "Joseph."  Early on, this similarity got some confused, particularly Josef that I've been discussing ... and at the beginning of the Meyer post this is how Tiberius comes back into the game, saying, "Can Tiberius cast Armor [the spell] before going?"

Notice: NO reference to the previous post; NO query regarding if it is too late.  Just the immediate assumption he can do whatever, despite not being here around.  I'm guessing some readers have encountered this before, too.  And it, too, is a bad habit and it too needs to be stomped.  Good manners, right?  But here we are, it's on a blog post, manners take time to write out and I'm just trying to get everyone on board ... so I just overlook it and let him cast Armor.  But it's not good DMing.  DM Error #3.

Whereupon Delfig and Anshelm get about the business of playing, when Josef, way back in the woods, mutters in a comment, "(back at the ranch ... 'you know Hund - beets are and aphrodesiac.  I suppose you know enough about that..." [edited for punctuation]
Now, I definitely should have stomped on that shit.  It's attention-seeking, it's drivel, it's a vague reference to the dogsbody Ells (who has trouble speaking, so it's insulting as well), and worst of all, Josef has no other players around him.

My immediate answer should have been, "Josef, you're not here.  Please keep the channel clear while we resolve what's happening."  Instead, I said nothing.  I supposed it was going to be a one-off comment and that it could be ignored.  Nope.  That was not the case.

As Anshelm decides to go around to look at the back of the homestead, Josef continues: "(back at the ranch) must rut like a dog ... mizer ever buy a woman for you Ells?  Eh?"

Again, more drivel. It's a reference to Johann Mizer, the NPC the party is working for, but it is flagrantly abusive and in poor taste.  It is distracting from what's actually going on ... and I would have probably stomped on it, except, almost right after, one of the other players, Delfig, writes, "OOC - Josef, yer crackin' me up!"

To which Josef replies, putting two comments together, "creepy ... ha ha.  Kazimir?  You up doing recon?"

And this starts two ricochets in my head.  First, that I don't want to stomp on Josef if he's making the other players laugh, which is just a goddamn stupid thought for me to have in my head as a DM. At a real table, there's no way I would go there ... but as I'm dealing with total strangers, on the internet, whose faces I can't read and whose commitment I can't count on, not this early in the game ... I find myself swayed by this.  I let it go and the situation proceeds to worsen.  DM Error #4.

The other ricochet is that I start thinking, at this point, that Kazimir is THERE, with Josef.  I haven't seen Kazimir make a comment and he almost never does, so I forget that I've put him up with the others above the homestead and suddenly, in my head, he's where Josef can talk directly to him.  Which he can't.  But I'm concentrating on the details surrounding the homestead, and what Anshelm is doing, and how annoyed I'm getting with Josef ... and that last detail slips in my thoughts.  It will come back to bite me later.  DM Error #5.

Then Anshelm makes an error.  When he gives up on the reconnaissance through the forest, he says, "Anshelm works back to where Josef and company are standing."  And then he adds a statement in quotes, which doesn't make sense unless he says it to Delfig, so ...

Now Anshelm is in two places.  He's gone all the way back to Josef, in which case Josef would have no idea what the hell Anshelm is talking about, or he's gone back to Delfig and the inclusion of Josef in that statement was an oversight.  An oversight probably brought on by Josef talking directly about stuff to the party, which wasn't possible but which I let go on.  And that only gets worse, as the floodgates open and Josef and the players just start chatting away at each other, with Josef making suggestions about what to do about the homestead and the other players answering and/or debating his ideas.

And where was I?  Messing up.  Seriously gawddamn messing up.

Josef, after that, goes completely off the reservation.  He starts talking about using "L" [by which he means the dogsbody, Ells] by killing the dogsbody and dropping the body in Meyer's yard as a threat, since there's no horsehead handy.  Next, while debating ideas with Delfig, Josef is suggesting they pretend to be travelling performers, with Josef juggling sling bullets.  Then he's back to berating the dogsbody again, talking about having a leash and collar, making Ells play fetch, then making a vague reference to a guild patch that Ells wears, as his master Joseph Mizer, the party's employer here, is a merchant.

Throughout some of this, Ells has been trying to warn the party that there are huge bombadier beetles in the forest, but as he has a speech impediment, he can only express these as "beet."  Josef designates Ells as a "beet-lover", and then becomes progressively more and more confusing in the comments section.

Reading this years later, it is just fucking weird.  As I parse through the various comments, which it was clear was all being read as humorous at the time (and which I remember was merely annoying, as I was trying to follow what the party was doing), I feel like the player behind Josef had some kind of ... mental deficiency.  This has become more and more clear as I have been editing the content of the campaign, and noticing how often Josef's comments are non-sequential and often irrational.

In the midst of this madness, even though I don't make a comment for quite a long time, Anshelm remarks on his coming back to where he is reunited (with no specific person named), while Delfig also assumes that Anshelm has worked his way back, presumably to join Delfig ... and I admit that I missed his return and ~ finally ~ I tell Josef to cut out the dreck.

Josef ignores me, at which point he decides to cast command on the dogsbody and kill him with a mace.  And I ... fuck, I don't believe it ... I just go along with it.

No doubt, I was thinking, "Well, it's his problem.  He can explain it to Mizer later.  I don't care."  But in fact, I should have cared, not because it was wrong to kill the dogsbody, which I don't care about, but because the whole sequence was clearly staged for the sake of getting attention.  Josef did not give a damn about any of the other players and was having a great time spoiling.  As I said, I should have stomped him; but I didn't, even when he "went crazy."  DM Error #6.

Which, viewed as a series of statements made and actions taken, it looks like.  Josef appears on the post to be a sociopath.  It's demented.

Hopelessly confused, I post, "Let me recap, then: Anshelm, Tiberius and Kazimir are watching Josef dragging the dead body of Ells into the woods, on the rise overlooking the meadow and homestead.
Delfig has been asked if he will wait while Frau Meyer fetches her husband."

Which is utterly, utterly wrong.  With all the chatter back and forth between the party and Josef, at one point Anshelm shouts, "What are you doing!?" as Josef kills Ells.  Josef answers, "He is a werewolf." [D&D munchkin cliche]  So I think they're actually talking, so I put Anshelm with Josef.  And Tiberius, because he hasn't said much since deciding at the top of the post to go along, and Kazimir, because he never says anything ... and the thread of the whole damn post is gone because I did not kick the ever-living shit out of Josef at the start.

DM Error #7, forgetting where everyone is.

Looking over the material, I see I didn't sort it out even with the next post, as there's a long discussion as people at a long distance from each other discuss how to explain the murder.  Strange.  In the back of my mind I always had a feeling that something had gone terribly wrong with the visit to the Meyer Homestead.  Now, looking at it in detail, trying to edit it, I see what that was.

All this post was written to explain, in my official rewrite of the events, what the hell went wrong.  It is my intention to clean up the campaign, and to link this post to it as a footnote.  I intend to get everyone in their right places, to eliminate illogical conversations and discussions, to return Anshelm to Delfig and keep Kazimir and Tiberius there as well, and to depict Josef as a raving, murderous lunatic.  I intend the edited version to make sense.

Some people, I know, will see that as "not the true face" of D&D.  I have another version.  In my version of "truth," Anshelm and Delfig were trying very hard to play well, at a game that mattered to them, in a manner that showed their commitment.  And three other players showed either a total lack of commitment or a maliciously selfish agenda that attempted to piss on everything that was happening.

I know which players' content I wish to preserve, and which I prefer to bury in a lime-soaked latrine out back.

There is little difference between this and a post on my Masterclass blog, except this one is for free.  I don't care that I've made errors as a DM, as long as I learn from them, and as long as they can be a sign for others to see, and thus avoid pitfalls.

And while some will think that it is "posterity" to save every tick and letter of the original campaign, I do not.  I will rework the campaign text for me, and for what I see as important.  I am not a bean-counter.  I am a star gazer.

Friday, June 22, 2018

What Concerns Me with NPCs

This is not a Master Class post.  It describes a tangent that came out of the last teaser I posted for the Master Class, NPCs Lie.  At the front of that post I wrote that, "role-players who must treat every encounter with excessive dramatic importance" frustrate me.  I then gave an example of a group of cotters met by the players ... leaving off the player's reaction deliberately, as the post itself is a teaser.

Forget what that reaction is.  The tangent was proposed by a comment I received from Homer2101, who had not read the full post (so it isn't relevant to this discussion).  The comment started,
"A real traveler coming upon some cotters has the benefit of about fifty million years of evolution plus a few decades' experience in local social expectations, when intuiting the correct course of action in a particular social situation. A player sitting at a game table has none of those benefits. The player sees an action (NPCs going for weapons) but she cannot reliably divine the reasoning behind it. To her the NPCs are black boxes. The same forces that cause otherwise-normal people to behave like fuckwads on the Internet, make it very difficult for players to intuit the appropriate course of action when interacting with NPCs.
"Clever players try to guess what the DM is thinking."
Homer then describes solutions that might be employed to solve the problem he identified.  That's fine.  I've tried some of them, I don't think they work, that's opinion, it's not relevant to this post either.  I answered Homer in the comments of that post, and among other things he replied with this question,
"... distilling ideas into discrete numbers has some advantages, which you are probably aware of. So What makes an NPC's relationship with the players different from combat, trade or knowledge?"

Okay.  There's the background.  I'd like to deconstruct this.

I don't accept that a real person in a real place has special intuition in problem solving that a role-player doesn't also have.  This, in fact, is the fundamental psychology behind the invention of role-playing as a therapeutic technique, one that long predates its use in gaming.  A player sitting at a game table ALSO has the benefit of evolution; not just the 50 million years of mammalian development, but centuries of experience with fictional development, theme, motivation, character and resolution.

I don't accept that only clever players try to guess what the DM is doing.  I think all players do this, with varying amounts of success.  It's a part of our human nature: guessing what other people are thinking.  Not just the DM. Everyone. It is what we do when we interact.  It is what the reader is doing while reading these words: "What is Alexis thinking?  What is he trying to get across?"  Our ability to do this with anybody we hear or read is not, I think, a special element of what clever players do.  Clever players are possibly better at it.  Or read another way, clever players consciously do something that everyone else does habitually.

Is that superior?  Or is that a way of overthinking?  My experience as a DM is that players who push to circumvent my thoughts by guessing ahead of me are usually a very large problem in game play.  This is part of the issue I proposed at the start: that savvy players treat every episode of NPC interaction as HUGELY important ... largely because they take the position that if the DM put this cotter's village in front of us, it must ~ MUST ~ mean something.

If it doesn't, all that DM's mind guessing will likely find a plan where there is no plan.  And that is a problem.  In my game, I'm likely to put a cotter's village in front of the party, because they've chosen to visit a place that would logically have a cotter's village.  And that is my thinking.  Like saying, if you're in a neighborhood with homes, there's probably a convenience store.  The convenience store isn't relevant to what's going on with the game.  No one at the convenience store has information for the party.  It is a convenience store.  And that's all.

I can create parts of my world all night long that way, without anything having "meaning," because my world is a sandbox.  Not a pre-made adventure, with NPC's waiting in a Truman Show manner, ready to play their part when the players walk by.  I'm good with my world being that way.  That's fine with me.  That's how the real world works.  No one at the local convenience store cares who or what you are, or what your plans are, or what adventure you're on.  It is up to you, the player, to show how what matters to you needs to matter to them.

If you won't do that, or can't do that, they don't care.

What makes an NPC's relationship different from combat, trade or knowledge?  The latter three are game metrics ~ performance measures of a player's activity or performance, at something the player attempts to achieve or succeed at.  Combat is a metric that measures the player's success at surviving battle.  Trade is a metric that compares the player's wealth with what the player can buy.  Knowledge is a metric that defines the player's performance at knowing things, both abstract and concrete.

The NPC is a not a metric.  The NPC's relationship with the player CAN be treated as a metric; gawd knows, I've tried to do that.  But a relationship is a correlation of statistical dependencies and associations, some of which are causal, some of which are reactive, but mixed in with motivations that might come from anywhere.  Relationships are not measurements.  Some might feel that they can be measured, but they themselves are not, like combat, a method OF measurement.

What the DM is thinking in creating an NPC might be, hell, anything.  We're just used to thinking that we can guess what an NPC thinks because the endless stream of modular adventures that have been thrust into the culture all have that Truman stank connected with them.

The NPC exists because the player exists.  This is, we have been told, the ONLY reason the NPC exists.  And in that argument, the NPC does seem like a metric.  It allows the clever player the fundamental a priori argument that I've already stated: since this NPC exists, it must therefore serve the player.  I have to figure out what that is.

But this is actually bullshit.  If I don't accept the premise as a DM, you as player have no leg to stand on.  And I don't accept the premise.  The NPC does not exist to serve the player.

Now, in recent building block posts, I have written that the NPC ought to provide a service for the player.  This is true.  The convenience store provides a service. You can buy things there.  This does not mean the convenience store serves you, as pawn in your life's game, as the old man who approaches the party does in a typical store-bought game adventure.

So.  I'm not very concerned about the NPC's relationship to the player. The player has to create and build that relationship. I only supply the NPC ~ and the NPC's motivations might be anything.  Literally anything.  How many people exist in the world, and what is the number of their collective motivations?

I'm not very concerned with the players taking the appropriate course of action.  There is no appropriate choice.  There is no inappropriate choice.  I'm not frustrated by players who don't take the appropriate course.  I'm frustrated by players who treat every encounter as though there is one.

I'm not concerned about clever players who try to guess what I'm thinking ... except that they keep thinking that I'm thinking something that I'm not.  Or worse, that I'm thinking what I will never, ever think ... that this NPC exists to serve the player.  If clever players would open up their minds and actually consider what I might be thinking ... they'd learn to be less concerned with that, and more concerned with addressing what's happening.

What's happening is much more interesting and concrete than what might be happening.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Story Behind the Senex Rewrite

This post is about business.  Perhaps someday you'll be where I am, and have to parse out something like this yourself.  I have been a tortured soul for several days now, looking for the ethical path.

Some months ago, with inspiration I wrote a post deconstructing the actions of players in my online world, carefully explaining my methodology as a DM, my motivation and expectations from the players, and why I thought the players reacted as they did.  I had never written a post like this.  I had not conceived of the idea until a few hours before writing the post.

The post was 5,600 words and was a lot of effort to write.  It was detailed, finicky work, with lots of consideration for providing a fair and faithful representation of my own feelings at the time and the desire not to offend.  I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of it.

The post was immediately very popular.  The first four comments on the post all said MORE.  And the fourth comment, from Samuel Kernan, suggested pledging for more such content, at a $3-$5 range.

So I wrote another post, similar to the first.  And that was very popular, too.  So it occurred to me to take Samuel up on his suggestion and set up a schedule for writing these posts, relating it to Patreon and putting it behind a paywall.  And as a matter of fact that also worked.  My Patreon account jumped more than a hundred dollars a month in pledges.

Good.  But I'm no dummy.  I saw immediately that there would be two problems that were going to arise.

First, the posts were burdensome to write.  Two a month, with a set minimum of 3,000 words, was going to be a heavy workload and they have been.  No complaints, but I have had to account for the time and ensure that both those posts have been completed before the end of each month.  Without question, after writing 13 of them now, it is work, no different than any other job might be ~ and in the short run, not at a high pay grade.

Second, I was utterly dependent on the existence of the campaign blogs having already been written.  Without that content, in the Senex and Juvenis campaigns, there was no "great new idea" for Patreon.  I relied on those campaigns to make the plan work.

However, I had never made a secret of the fact that I was running those online campaigns for the sake of my reputation and ultimately as a means of drumming up financial support.  Before I could tell people how to run D&D, I had to be SEEN running D&D, and well enough to justify people in believing what I had to say.  And it worked.  In nine years of running online games, I haven't seen anyone online argue that the campaigns proved I was a bad DM.

Which brings us to last month, when I discovered that the names on character contributions had been replaced with "anonymous," effectively sabotaging the value of those campaigns as readable commodities.  Whatever the reason, this was a massive threat to my new business model.  Without the campaign in existence, I was sunk.  So I took action.  I removed the Senex campaign from the public, placing it into private to protect the content.

I explained online what I thought was happening: that two players had deliberately sought out to disrupt the content by deleting their nicks, specifically Andrej and Delfig.  I immediately got push back from James Clark, who played Andrej, denying having taken any action.  He explained that he had lost the original Andrej account, etc., as a possible explanation.  The only thing is ... all of those accounts had been there 14 days before.  I know.  I had read them.  I was not prepared to believe this sudden change was coincidental.  I'm still not.

One commenter, Daniel Oliveira, suggested a possible explanation: and that might be the case.  I did not see that, however, as something that changed the threat level.  I had created something good, which the readers were decidedly supporting.  I was not going to risk that on the explanation of a stranger on the internet.

Still, Daniel's final words rang my conscience and I did not forget it:
"Hope that you put the Campaign Senex blog back online. I've found your blog 40-something days ago and I'm reading it all, chronologically, from the very start. So I'm fucking curious to finish reading the campaign."

And I did not like writing the second post of the masterclass blog last month without having that Senex campaign to link up with for reference.  So I ruminated.  And ruminated.  And considered what I could do about it.

So at 4:30 PM, lying in a cool bath on a hot day, I reasoned with myself that I could rewrite the whole campaign, editing it, so that it could be preserved without any worry that someone with a grudge might someday come in and delete comments they had made six years ago, because I had misrepresented them in some way.  I didn't like that.  I worked damn hard on those campaigns.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, possessive of them.

At 5:00 PM on Monday, I started editing the first post of the first campaign, which I originally published on this blog, before ultimately creating a new blog just for the campaign.  I set myself a blog size of at least 10,000 words for each "campaign post."  Six hours later, I was still putting the posts together, managing to edit, organize, format and parse out a little more than half of one such post.

The work, I found, despite my zeal in undertaking the task as soon as I had conceived it, was excessively nit-picky.  Players were chucking all sorts of garbage into their game comments, jokes, odd bits of grammar and punctuation that had to be puzzled over, stating things out of character or excessively in character, all the usual things players do in a game.  I was anxious to be true to the material and yet to make the material more relevant to my fundamental needs: to have a resource that I could count on for further deconstruction essays, for those loving such essays.

As the work went on, however, soaking up more and more time, I could not help wondering, "Why the hell am I doing all this work?  Does anyone even care?"  It was pretty easy to go back and see that none of those old posts are getting much attention these days.  One page view a week is a big deal.  And so in the midst of the work, I found myself questioning the work ... which is perfectly normal for any monumental task.  Particularly as I discovered that it took no more than five campaign posts on the blog to fill out 11,500 words.

There are 467 posts on the Senex blog.  Think about that a moment.

Editing the whole campaign is a GIANT task.

So I began to wonder.  Do I post this on the Tao of D&D blog, where it can be read by anyone, for free ... or do I post it on the Master Class blog, behind a $3 paywall?  I hemmed and hawed about it all through Tuesday.  I shut my online Juvenis campaign down early on Tuesday because I was so tired from the work and the thinking that I had to crash that afternoon.  I talked the question over with my partner.  I talked the question over with my daughter.

Ultimately, the decision was made on this basis.  The rewrite had one relevant purpose: to sustain the content that was going to be appearing on the Master Class blog.  Therefore, it effectively IS the Master Class.  Given the amount of work it was going to be to edit it, I felt it fair to support the paywall ~ however people might feel about paywalls.  I was working.  I felt it was fair that it should increase the value that people who were supporting me on Patreon would get for their money.  With this reasoning, I published the post Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, I got a message from James C., who ran the character Andrej, one of those that went anonymous.  The message was not sent to my email, it was posted as a comment on google+:
"So as if publicly accusing your former players (me among them) of inexplicably deleting their names from countless old posts wasn't bat-shit crazy enough, you've now decided to edit the content they helped to create without checking in with them (again) and put it all behind your paywall? It's your blog, and you can do what you want with it, but my advice to you, moving forward and for the sake of both yourself and your current players & collaborators (Juvenis campaign), is to treat them better..."

Okay, there's anger there.  I concede that there was public accusation.  I concede that I am probably bat-shit crazy.  I don't think either is necessarily unfounded, considering this is the Internet, and that I've had some genuine, sustained online hate directed at my thoughts and decisions.  But I'll grant that I am operating without certain information and it has been for that reason that I took some of the more egregious accusations I made off my blog.

However ... I did not "check in" with this player before taking action because this player was in no way connected with any of the material that I posted on Tuesday.  He had not joined the campaign as yet, and therefore was not relevant to the decision I had to make Tuesday.  Granted, if I follow through with my plan, I will eventually add the content he helped create, and I am sure this is how he saw it.  So he has a reasonable expectation that I am bound to edit ... mmm ... around 80,000 words of campaign content first, so that I can then start to edit the content that included him.

I'm also sure that he isn't considering the amount of work involved with painstakingly and accurately re-editing the content of multiple contributors, as opposed to one contributor who wrote ten comments without much long-term consideration about how those comments might someday be used to educate others.  Which I am doing.  Which may, or may not, be my privilege.  It's a grey area.  Someone could, I suppose, sue for a % of my Patreon.  I don't know.  I know that I'm not going to restore the Senex campaign as a public platform and I know I'm not going to edit this much content for free.  I have limits on how generous I'm prepared to be with my time and my expertise.

I suspect that the mere fact of the publication Tuesday, and the lack of comments about it, has some people ... questioning my motivation here.  So I have tried to write a post explaining my position, and why more of these Senex rewrites are bound to appear in the future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Senex Campaign 1: First Day in Dachau

After much thought, I've come to a decision about the Senex Campaign, which I took off-line some weeks ago.  I have decided to write it out, so that it can be preserved as I feel it ought to be preserved.

This gives me an opportunity to properly edit the content.  First and foremost, to remove immaterial content, such as comments about availability or status.  To clean up the grammatical and spelling errors.  To sort out discontinuities, particularly the temporal problem of players happening to comment long after a question was asked or already answered.  I can remove comments that went nowhere.  Or rather rude comments that added little to the overall experience.  And I can clarify wherever that might make the message clearer, even if the players at the time were forced to suffer my limitations.  Hell, I can even replace old diagrams with better, more aesthetic versions, if I so choose.

So here I start that process, with the player's first days in 17th century Dachau.  And slowly, steadily, I can complete the whole campaign, beginning to end.

Starting the Campaign

Note: "OOC" = Out of Campaign

It is early afternoon on a Sunday, May 5, 1650. Four of you are resting yourselves on the porch of a town gasthaus, The Pig, at the corner where a narrow lane meets with the town square. You’re waiting for your friend Kazimir to arrive. Not long ago, you watched the usual scattering of most of the citizenry from the town cathedral’s doors from your usual place across the square…whereupon the gasthaus threw open its doors for business. A number of stalls and tables were quickly erected by teams of young boys in the employ of their merchant masters, a goodly number of them against the side wall of the church, where you can the usual piles of vegetables and sacks. Various less blessed members of the town are picking them over, haggling with the sellers and stuffing their bought wares into sacks to be hauled off to the various common quarters of the town.

The bartender, Helmunt, fills your drinks at no charge. Upon an agreement, the four of you have been given the privilege of drinking free in exchange for your endorsement, your willingness to put an end to any trouble and the simple fact that you represent the higher end of Helmunt’s clients. He has hopes that your presence on his front stoop might expose the quality of his kitchen to a few of the better members of the town.

You’re bored. This has been the routine for nearly two months now. You four, Tiberius, Josef, Delfig and Anshelm, met on a cold morning in mid-spring (for the region), finding yourselves all stranger, fairly compatible with one another and equally of the opinion that many of the vicissitudes of life are unappreciated by most. At the moment, however, you could stand a few more changes than there have been.

But it is a fine day; May Day celebrations were four days ago. The Bishop of Friesing, the nominal lord of the town, along with Dachau’s burghermeister, gave a fine festival--and since, all of you have been fairly restless. The discussions around the table have suggested a number of reasons for this…that you can’t stay in this dull town forever. That it is these ridiculous Catholics with their fascinations with guilt and sin. That a small taste of the outside world has whet your appetites. But what to do now is left to your minds to conceive. So far, there has been little luck there.
Delfig Kôlhupfer, the Bard: Has anyone visited The Pig that would have given us reason to think they might have something interesting to talk about? Was anything said or done at the May festival that would have be interesting to follow up?
Is there anything interesting in terms of other ‘strangers’ being in town?
I’ll most likely be idly strumming my lyre and humming, seeing if anyone is interested in a song (and parting with a few coins in appreciation.)
DM: No, no and no.
Anshelm Helbelinc, the Thief: I spit and gesture at the marketgoers. “Like little rats, out and back to their holes.”
I reach for my snuff box. Is there anything unusual going on among the merchants and common folk? Any unusual people? Even if it’s not unusual, does anyone look like they’re casing the crowd for an easy mark?
DM: No, no and no. Gentlemen, this is not a ‘story’ campaign. There’s no rule, no plan, no set-up. Nothing will be handed to you on a plate. You will have to make a decision about what you, as a group, want to ‘do,’ and then set about doing it.
I know you’re not used to that. But sadly, there are no ‘unusual’ people. You might see the church’s head deacon poking about the chicken cages at one of the stalls.
Josef Mieszko, the Cleric: I’ll ask Helmunt the next time he comes to the table if he knows of any legends or rumors of the town or vicinity where profit might be gained by adventurers such as ourselves.
Tiberius, the Mage: “Gentlemen …” I take a slow swig of my drink. “We’re all bored. No disrespect to our fine patron for the free beer, of course.” I salute the owner. “But, why don’t we hire ourselves out to one of those merchants and see if we can’t see some real action?”
Anshelm: “Eh, why shouldn’t we? It’s better than chasing errant rats back to their hiding holes. Should we wait for friend Kazimir?” I continue scanning the market crowd while speaking. “Not sure I like the look of any of ‘em, though...”
[OOC: This doesn’t mean that Anshelm’s against it; he just doesn’t like people in general]
Delfig: I nod to myself as I remember a request. I dig into my pouch, fishing out four silver pieces and tossing them to Josef. “I know I’ll see that again ... especially when we get off our collective asses and start seeing what we can see.”
Josef: “Thanks, Delfig.”
Delfig: “Lets wander about and see what is happening.”
With that, I will stand and start walking about the marketplace, strumming my lyre. If any seem interested, I’ll greet them and play a bit if they seem interested. I make sure to approach the various merchants, nodding and smiling, calling out a friendly greeting. If any seem inclined to talk, then I’ll start a conversation with them, inquiring about any local news or if they have any sort of interesting work to discuss.
Anshelm: “Well, I guess Delfig’s made our decision for us. A pretty song, at least.” I follow the bard into the crowd.
DM: People show a vague interest in Delfig; but of course, they’ve seen him before, doing exactly this most every day; and frankly, there are better bards in the town.
Delfig: If there’s nothing of interest around the market and everyone seems boring, I’ll go back and join Josef and Tiberius and suggest that perhaps we go for a walk away from town along one of the roads. Maybe it’s time for a road trip to Ingolstadt.

While Delfig and Anshelm wander out and back, Josef and Tiberius make their own plans.
Josef: I’ll go to the grocer and purchase some rations, and then return to the gasthaus.
Tiberius: I get up as well, and search among the merchants who have the more expensive wares, asking if they need any guards for their caravans.
DM: Helmunt the bartender, having overhead Tiberius’s suggestion, will stop Josef and Tiberius just before they go.
Helmunt (npc bartender): “Are you bonded to the merchant’s guild? Would it be possible for me to post a small notice in favor of my establishment?”
Tiberius: “An excellent idea, my good man.”
Josef: We’re not bonded, no. But perhaps we should go to the Guildhall then to sell our services instead of frightening the fishmongers and fruit vendors!
DM: Helmunt is confused by Tiberius’s answer. He looks askance at Josef.
Helmunt (slowly): “Would you be hired if you were not bonded?”
Josef: My guess, Tiberius, is that we’d be on our own with the Merchant’s Guild. There must be a guildhall somewhere. I’d not be opposed to hiring on to a march to Nuremburg, either.
Tiberius (not answering Helmunt): I ask Helmunt the location of the guild hall and start there.
Josef: “Tiberius, wait! I’m not certain that such a place exists. Thinking about it, it seems that perhaps we’d have a better time talking to one or a few of the shopkeepers who provided us our gear of late. It seems it would be one of these men, who actually deal in goods brought into town, that might be inclined to bond us.”
Tiberius: “Okay, let’s do that.”
DM: You need not ask. The merchant’s guild hall is the large three-story building across the principal square from the cathedral.
Josef: Perhaps the apothecary is in need of some materials - I used to engage in similar activities in my youth. Or we could go hunting, and sell pelts to the furrier. Oh heck. “Let’s you and I, as learned men Tiberius, inquire at the Merchant’s Guild.”
Tiberius: “Then, we’re agreed.” Setting down my cup, I walk over to the guild hall with Josef.

The details of the characters’ actions are interrupted as the players have a discussion about merchants and their interests, learning something about the trade in Dachau.
Anshelm: How often do merchant caravans enter or leave Dachau? Is anyone selling any sort of luxury item, something that might attract the attention of highwaymen, etcetera?
Josef: I wonder. The roads here seem safe - I wonder how much need there would be for such protection as we might provide. Still, money is money - and I have precious little.
DM: The principle trade route reaches from Italy through Innsbruck in the south, to Northern Germany through Nuremberg, north of Dachau. Beer, precision tools and metals tend to move south; fabrics, spices, incense and perfumes tend to come north. Everything attracts the attention of highwaymen. The roads are not that safe.

continued elsewhere ...

This is just a small part of the first day, and the first of many such posts.  I am going to divide them into posts of 10,000 words or so, and put that content on the Master Class blog.  After all, the primary value of these posts to me is as source material for those deconstructions.

To see the rest of this post, you must pledge at least $3 to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class, but you must do it soon if you wish to see this post before waiting another full month until August 1st.